Influencers beware: Here comes the FTC.

Plus: Recipes that are both delicious and nutritious.

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Wednesday. Over the weekend, the U.S. and 16 other countries released a 20-page international agreement providing safety recommendations for companies developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems. Well, that’s comforting. Now that we have safety recommendations, nothing can go wrong. By the way, this newsletter is still brought to you by an old-fashioned human. Boring, I know. 

Here’s something that isn’t boring—the FTC is cracking down on influencers peddling junk food on social media. Let’s dive in.

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Sneaky Sneaky Influencers

In the ever-evolving world of Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, and all the other social media platforms I probably don’t know about, it’s becoming increasingly common for food and beverage companies to use influencers to promote their products. “Mommy influencers” will promote sugary snacks, “health influeners” will promote artifically sweetneed drinks, and so on. We’ve all seen it, and today, these paid ads are more common than ever before. 

However, a recent action by federal regulators is highlighting the need for more transparent disclosure of paid advertising by these “influencers.”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken a bold step by sending warning letters to two major industry groups – the American Beverage Association and the Canadian Sugar Institute – as well as a dozen nutrition influencers with substantial followings on TikTok and Instagram. Why the letters? These influencers failed to clearly disclose who was funding their promotion of artificial sweeteners or sugary foods.

Tsk, tsk. 

So, why is this such a big deal? In today’s digital age, influencers hold significant sway over their millions of followers. When they recommend a product, people listen, and their endorsements can shape public opinion and consumer habits. Influencers can have a much bigger impact that your average TV commercial because of level of trust they’ve built with their followers. 

However, the real issue arises when these influencers fail to transparently reveal their financial connections to the products they endorse. This lack of clarity is particularly troubling in the context of food and beverage products, which have a direct effect on our health and wellness. Consider this: is the “mommy influencer” genuinely giving those snacks to her own children, or is she simply promoting them for a paycheck from a large food corporation? It’s crucial information for the public to be aware of, don’t you think?

Now, I know that sending a strongly worded letter doesn’t exactly sound like a bold move that will lead to serious change, but the FTC’s crackdown is more than just a slap on the wrist. It represents a larger movement to hold influencers and the industry accountable for transparent social media marketing campaigns. 

This means moving away from vague hashtags like #ad or #sponsored and towards more direct naming of the brands or companies paying them. This approach not only ensures honesty in advertising but also helps consumers make more informed decisions about the products they consume.

Interestingly, this action by the FTC follows a months-long investigation by The Washington Post and the Examination, revealing how the food and beverage industry used popular dietitians to promote messages that often lacked sponsor disclosure. 

So, what does this mean for the future of social media marketing in the food and beverage industry? For starters, influencers need to take their role more seriously and understand the responsibility that comes with their platform. On the other side, industry groups need to ensure that their partnerships with influencers are transparent and follow legal guidelines.

The key takeaway? This move by the FTC could have a ripple effect across the influencer marketing sector, setting a new standard for disclosures not only in the food and beverage industries but in other areas as well. It’s a reminder that with the power of influence comes the responsibility of transparency. 

It boils down to this: consumers need to know if what they are getting is a genuine recommendation from someone they trust or a paid advertisement funded by Big Food. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? 

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